Age discrimination lawsuit alleges that Rochester Fire Department created hostile work environment

The former employee alleges that the department engaged in several tactics to force him to resign.

Book with chapter age discrimination and a gavel.
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MINNEAPOLIS — A former Rochester Fire Department administrator has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis against the city of Rochester that alleges the department discrimnated against him due to his age by creating a hostile work environment in order to force him to quit.

The plantiff, Curtis Pronk, served as the department's administrative services manager from 2006 to 2021. He was 60 years old at the time of his retirement.

"Plaintiff was subjected to a hostile work environment, unfair criticisms and mischaracterizations of his performance by defendant that placed him in an untenable position of imminent demotion and reduction of pay unless he resigned his position and left his job, causing him to be constructively discharged in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act," part of the complaint reads.

The city denies the allegations, claiming that department personnel spoke with Pronk several times about job performance issues and that Rochester Fire Chief Eric Kerska, who is named in the lawsuit, undertook a review in 2019 of several divisions, including Pronk's, within the department to determine if any restructuring needed to take place.

"The City of Rochester denies in their entirety Mr. Pronk’s allegations that he was discriminated against based on his age," Susan Tindal, an attorney with the law firm Iverson Reuvers, which is defending the city in the lawsuit, wrote in an email to the Post Bulletin. "The City did not discriminate against Mr. Pronk and has submitted an Answer to Mr. Pronk’s Federal lawsuit denying his allegations and intends to aggressively defend this lawsuit."


Kerska did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.

Fire Chief Eric Kerska mug
Eric Kerska.

It was determined that Pronk's position would be changed to meet the department's needs, which included removing supervisory duties, according to the city's response to the lawsuit that's filed in federal court. Pronk alleges that the position change lowered his annual salary by tens of thousands of dollars.

"Mr. Pronk was a dedicated city employee who was mistreated and forced out because of his age," Pronk's lawyer, Steve Fiebiger, wrote in an email to the Post Bulletin. "He looks forward to having his day in court."

Pronk points to several performance reviews in the complaint during his time at the department that indicated he was completing job tasks successfully and had increased his workload. He also alleges that younger supervisors received timely annual performance reviews from the department, while he did not.

He also alleges that Rochester Fire Deputy Chief Vance Swisher accused him of having "bullshitted his way through," in December 2020 and demanded to know how Pronk would complete certain tasks, despite the city not requiring younger managers in similar positions to do the same or to the level of specificity.

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Vance Swisher.

In its response, the city maintains that several of Pronk's assertions are factually incorrect, including his claim that he controlled and completed reports for the department's budget, that the city removed his supervisory duties without warning or expedited that process, and that Pronk was given specific examples of performance concerns in both his reviews and a detailed December 2020 memorandum.

A hearing regarding the lawsuit has not been set. The case has been assigned to Senior U.S. District Judge Michael Davis.

Mark Wasson has been a public safety reporter with Post Bulletin since May 2022. Previously, he worked as a general assignment reporter in the southwest metro and as a public safety reporter in Willmar, Minn. Readers can reach Mark at
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